Technology the key for independent Joanne

Last April, Cork teenager Joanne O’Riordan delivered a keynote speech to the UN in New York.

Yesterday she was on home territory, addressing delegates at a conference on topics as diverse as education, entertainment, and technology.

Joanne, 16, from Millstreet, has no limbs and is one of only seven people in the world with total amelia syndrome.

That hasn’t stopped her leading a full and varied life, thanks to her parents and family, her own indomitable spirit, and the enthusiastic use of modern technology, as she explained yesterday.

“Technology helps me to lead an independent life,” she said as she prepared to speak at the Creating our Future Together conference hosted by Cork Institute of Technology.

“It means I don’t have to rely on my parents all the time.”

Nevertheless, her parents and older brother, Steven, were there to hear her inspiring speech which was transmitted live to viewers on both the east and west coasts of the US.

She was particularly excited about her new iPhone which is due to arrive next week. “It’s a 4S and I can’t wait,” she said.

Joanne, who came to prominence last December when she challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny over the Government’s plan to cut disability allowances for teenagers — a decision that was later reversed — was one of a number of speakers at the conference.

Joanne told delegates how she uses technology to do everything from homework to playing games: “I can use my mobile phone, send texts, tweets, update my Facebook, play my PlayStation, Nintendo DS, iPad, iPod, and laptop.”

The conference was hosted in association with TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design), a global set of conferences owned by the private non- profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate “ideas worth sharing”.

Technology dominated the conference, with Cork man James Whelton taking the stage with entrepreneur Bill Liao, to share the story of the Coder Dojo initiative which aims to teach children how to programme software at an early age.

James has used his talent in the technology sector to give back to the wider community by establishing and developing a wide range of Coder Dojo networks with Bill’s help.

Another theme of the conference was the power of education. Among the speakers from CIT was academic Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin, whose expertise resides in the fields of gaming, e-learning, and social media.

Dr Siobhán O’Sullivan also took up the theme of e-learning and talked about the potential use of e-portfolios in documenting learning, reflective practice, and in the engagement of students in learning.

CIT president Dr Brendan Murphy said: “The real importance of an event like this is the way it brings together people with fresh ideas who look to the future rather than dwell on the present.

“It acts as an enabler and helps to harness those new ideas, spark networking, and forge collaborations.”

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